Trial attorney Ameer Benno taught a continuing legal education (CLE) course on handling unjust conviction cases on Oct. 22, 2019, at the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (NYSTLA).
The course was titled “Litigating Unjust Conviction Cases in New York”, a topic that Mr. Benno is quite knowledgeable about since he has extensive experience handling civil rights cases. Between 30 and 40 people attended this course, which he has taught multiple times before. The course was also recorded and will be available for purchase online for those who weren’t able to attend in person.
Unjust conviction cases are a kind of civil rights case; they allow wrongfully convicted prisoners who have served all or some of their time to receive compensation from the State if they meet certain requirements. According to the course page on the NYSTLA website, the course explores the “legal landscape” of these cases, emphasizing the “procedural and substantive pitfalls facing lawyers who litigate these challenging cases.” A course like this is necessary for lawyers hoping to make a successful claim, as the pitfalls involved in making them are numerous. For example, Mr. Benno said, even the paperwork is tricky; there is a particular process that needs to be followed for an unjust conviction claim to be submitted correctly, and if a mistake is made during this part of the process, the case would be thrown out.
The difficulty of these cases and his background in civil rights litigation make this topic particularly important to Mr. Benno. His goal is to “achieve justice for people who have been wronged in one of the worst ways possible,” he said. “I think it’s important in these cases to teach practitioners how to recognize how to protect people’s rights.”
Mr. Benno presented for the first 90-minute half of the course on litigating civil claims. He discussed what to look for in an unjust conviction case in order to determine whether or not it would be a viable one, how to plead it properly, and how to litigate and try the case. The second half of the course was a panel moderated by Mr. Benno, with a question and answer session afterwards. The panel consisted of a criminal defense attorney, an employee from the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Bronx DA’s office, a judge from the Court of Claims, and an exoneree. This allowed there to be a variety of perspectives. Mr. Benno hopes that the course attendees were able to learn all the ins and outs of an unjust conviction lawsuit; he wanted to give them all the tools they need to make a successful claim and get the best possible results for their clients.
Mr. Benno has taught a multitude of other CLE courses in the past, largely on topics like civil rights, constitutional law, and litigation skills. He has taught over 20 courses as a faculty member on Lawline, an online CLE provider. Two of his courses, “SCOTUS Preview 2017” and “Civil Rights Litigation Part V: State Action by Private Parties”, were featured in Lawline’s Top Courses of 2017, recommended by more than 99 percent of viewers. Another of his courses, titled “Legal Ethics and State Marijuana Laws Update,” made it into Lawline’s Top Courses of 2018.
Even though Mr. Benno is a skilled teacher, he is always continuing to learn and enjoys helping others to do so. “I find it very rewarding to share what I’ve learned with others, but I find it more rewarding to know that I’ve helped other lawyers become better,” he said.